RSA Conference 2020: InkHouse’s Tips for Successful Speaking Submissions

Jul 29, 2019 Jessica Bettencourt

August is one of the busiest months for InkHouse’s security practice, with both Black Hat USA 2019 taking place and RSA Conference’s 2020 speaker submissions due. With RSA Conference expecting more than 2,000 submissions this year, it’s critical to provide a unique, differentiating point of view. 

Insider Tips & Tricks

There’s no better way to learn what will garner attention at RSA Conference than hearing from the ultimate insider, Sandra Toms. Sandra served as the former Vice President of RSA Conference, and in her 20 years working for the company, she grew RSA Conference into the world’s largest cybersecurity event. She also created the program committee to select talks from a fiercely competitive speaking submission process. Under her command, global attendance grew from under 2,000 to nearly 50,000 attendees! 


Today, Sandra serves as the Chief Marketing Officer at our client, Absolute, and she graciously took the time to share these key tips with us:

Q: What advice do you have for the security community in terms of how to approach the opportunities that exist with the RSAC program agenda? 
[Sandra Toms]:
  • Think about security from an “issues” perspective, not from the perspective of what your company sells. Issues should focus on what is top of mind for professionals in enterprise organizations, financial institutions or government agencies.
  • Fill out the details on your talk – there is a section to provide more information and this is what the program committee will read. Be clear, concise and issues-focused – what will the audience learn from attending the talk?
  • Don’t underestimate the audience – 60-70% of the audience have 10+ years of experience in cybersecurity.  Talks that are too basic will not get accepted.
  • Be controversial! Be innovative! 
  • Consider the perspective of the program committee member who will read your submission – on average, they will be reading 200+ abstracts. Think about how your submission can stand out.
  • And READ all the tips on the website. Great information and advice is freely given.
Q: Are there any missteps that they should know to avoid making? What hurts the chances of acceptance? 
[Sandra Toms]:
  • Consider the title of your speaker – if you are in marketing, sales or business development, your submission may be suspect.
  • Repeating the same submission with a different title…wow, nothing is more irritating.
  • Sales pitches – which will be eliminated in the screening process. These submissions will never reach a program committee person for consideration.
  • Old, stale topics that have been covered for the past 10 years will not be accepted.
  • Not filling out the call for speakers form completely will lead to an automatic rejection.
  • Not asking why your submission was not accepted – learn from your submission… what could/should you do differently to get accepted.

Sandra, thank you so much for your time and insight. We also wanted to share some best practices that have worked for the InkHouse security practice to complement Sandra’s insider tips above: 


Given the competitive nature of RSA Conference, case studies are most successful when it’s a large, well-known brand that most are familiar with. For example, how a popular, national bank secures its systems is more likely to draw attention than a smaller, rural credit union’s inner workings. The customer reference shouldn’t be about how an organization is using a cybersecurity solution, but instead, consider the challenges they’re facing, the emerging threats they’re seeing and how it all affects the customer experience. 

Remember to incorporate tangible results and lessons learned in your submission. A good example of a past RSA Conference session that incorporated these best practices in a case study-based panel can be found here; another example of how a single speaker incorporated a case study into her solo presentation can also be found here


Cybersecurity careers are some of the most stressful in the world. Overlooked, and often uncomfortable, societal topics like mental health, alcoholism and burnout are getting more attention each year, to the point where it’s time to discuss this together as an industry. 

Consider submitting a real-life account of how a CISO felt in his role during a cybersecurity incident. Allow the speaker to be bold, candid and emotional. To make it stronger, consider co-submitting alongside an HR leader or professional specializing in the topic -- bringing together various viewpoints spanning different roles. Here’s a recent RSA Conference session example where this approach worked well.

rsa pic


Last year, InkHouse adopted a panel diversity policy, which ensures we don’t participate in all-male or all-white panels during any part of a program’s agenda. This approach should be followed when putting together any type of speaking proposal, not just for RSA Conference, but across the board -- especially in the cybersecurity industry. 

Take a look at your co-speaking idea -- is it a “manel” (all male panel)? Are two senior ranking white men discussing cybersecurity? Then it’s time to rethink the approach. Only by bringing together different experiences, backgrounds and viewpoints can we truly move compelling conversations forward. 

As a reminder, the RSA Conference 2020 Call for Speakers deadlines are as follows:

  • Full Conference Tracks & Learning Labs due August 2, 2019
  • Hackers & Threats Track and Sandbox due August 16, 2019

More tips for submission can be found here, courtesy of RSA Conference. Best of luck to all applying!

Topics: Security, cybersecurity, Speaking Opportunities, RSAC, Black Hat, RSAC2020
Jessica Bettencourt

As a vice president at Inkhouse, Jessica co-leads the agency’s security practice, running strategic, integrated communications programs for brands such as Raytheon Intelligence & Space and VMware. With over a decade of communications experience, Jessica is passionate about upleveling her clients' technical expertise to tell compelling stories that resonate with key audiences.

Read more from Jessica Bettencourt

To subscribe to the InkHouse Inklings blog, and for other thought leadership content just add your email address:



InkHouse has been recognized by:
  • TPTW_2019_grey
  • inc-bwp-2019-standard-logo
  • women-led-business-logo-1
  • PRNews_TopPlaces